ChangeMakers: Davin Sokup is first trans man elected to office in greater Minnesota

A man leans against a saw table in his garage
Davin Sokup in his home woodworking shop in Northfield, Minn., on May 24. Sokup won a seat on the Northfield City Council in November 2022, becoming the first trans man elected to office in greater Minnesota.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

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Davin Sokup is an at-large representative for the Northfield City Council. Sokup, 36, lives with his wife in the college town of 20,000 people about an hour’s drive south of the Twin Cities. 

Born and raised in and around Northfield, Sokup went to college and worked in Vermont before returning to his hometown and becoming involved in local politics in 2016. He is a Minnesota State Senate staffer as well as a woodworker and carpenter.

Sokup has been serving the city since January. He’s the first openly transgender man elected to office in greater Minnesota, the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute confirmed.

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“If I’m in a role as a city councilor or if I’m just a regular person that lives in town, it feels really good to help a neighbor,” Sokup said.

Editor's note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Who are your trans or nonbinary heroes?

Honestly, I didn't know any trans people when I was growing up. I think the first trans people I met that I knew were trans and who were out were my peers in college. I really looked up to them as role models, and, you know, they're not these famous trans people that you hear about on the news.

It’s so important for queer and trans people to see that there are adults living normal, healthy, safe lives. They don't have to be famous. They can just be regular people in the community. So, I still consider some of those first trans people that I met to really be, you know, hero figures. 

They showed me that there didn’t need to be this component of shame. Now that I'm older, I've gotten to that place, but it takes a long time when you don't have those other people around you to show you a different way.

Who is a rising trans or nonbinary leader in Minnesota?

I think the best example right now is Rep. Leigh Finke (DFL-St. Paul) in the state House. It's been amazing to see her in action. I work in the state Senate and up until this last session started, there were no trans people in that role and there were very few if any trans people even working at the Legislature. And that's totally different now. We had a conversation shift because the representation has shifted, too. It's just been entirely different there at the Legislature and it's been a privilege to get to see her and the role that she's really taken on. It's really exciting.

What's something you want everyone to know about trans or nonbinary people?

The spectrum of what it means to be trans is so vast — that’s what people should know. If you don't know any trans people and you think you have your mind made up about who trans people are and what it means to accept trans people for existing, I would really challenge you to actually get to know some trans people before you make up your mind.

And this could cross over into so many different community and identity groups. You really don't know much until you actually know people who have that experience and live with that experience every day of their lives.

How does it feel to come back to your hometown of Northfield as an adult?

It feels really good. Growing up here, I struggled a lot to know who I was and what my place was. I didn't really feel like I fit in in Northfield; I didn't really feel like I fit in in Faribault. I had good friends but by the time I graduated high school, I really wanted to get out. I came out between my sophomore and junior year of high school in Faribault and I came out as a lesbian because I had no idea who trans people were, and it was pretty rough. By the time I was 18 I just wanted to get away. So I moved away and didn't come back to Minnesota for a little over a decade. 

Being back here now as an adult, it's just such a different circumstance for me. I experience these towns in such a different way. I want to be involved here. I want to get to know more people. I just want to exist here differently because I know who I am and spent a long time away figuring that out. So while it's great to be in the place that I grew up in, it's very familiar, and I feel really comfortable here, I do really think I experience it as kind of a new place at the same time.

What do you enjoy most about serving as a local politician? 

If you want things to change, you need to get involved and you need to speak up. On a state level that can get a little bit lost — especially on a national level. On a local level, we really do deal with things that affect the way people experience where their home is. So it can become a little bit more exciting, in my opinion.

The decisions we make on the city level impact the ability for people to afford to have homes here, whether they rent or they own homes. It all kind of impacts your bottom line.

You kind of have to figure out a path forward that is not going to satisfy everyone but hopefully brings everyone's input into consideration. I find it fun. 

Often people who don't know a lot of queer people don't know that I'm trans until I bring it up. And so when I'm knocking on doors, it wouldn't be something I talked about, not because I don't want to, but because we would be talking about roads and street projects and housing development — the issues that affect everyone's lives, including trans people. 

So working full time in politics is definitely new. But it's been really, really enriching and fun. This last session was wild. And it was amazing. 

Outside of work you enjoy woodworking and carpentry. What do you like about those trades?

When it's your full-time job it can be really exhausting, but now I'm in this place where I get to decide what I want to work on and just kind of disappear into my woodshop mode and it feels amazing. It's a good way to have a good balance, since now I'm really more much more involved in politics, to kind of exit that for periods of time and go make something with my hands and it's a different kind of being productive. It's really relaxing. 

What are your hopes for the future of Minnesota?

Minnesota as a state has proven that we're literally a refuge for people who are not welcome in their homes any longer, which is both heartbreaking and makes me proud to live here. 

I am a trans person. I have been out since 2005 accessing gender-affirming care. People's idea of gender-affirming care is so rigid. It means something different for everyone, because it is health care. You’re seeking out the health care that is going to benefit your life, and everyone needs to do that. 

Trans people are actually a perfect example that when we have access to things that help us be who we fully are, that is a benefit to society. Just like anyone living their full authentic lives is going to positively impact people around them. Whether it's their family, community group or church they might be a part of, or their city in general, I think it all has a ripple effect.